jamie goode's wine blog

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A lovely northern Rhône Syrah from Maxime Graillot

This is a really lovely northern Rhône Syrah, made by Maxime Graillot, son of Alan (the most famous grower in this appellation of Crozes-Hermitage). It's quite an edgy, polarising sort of wine, though: with its high acidity and bold, striking flavours, some will fall in love while others will find it a bit too much.

It's just my sort of wine. I'd much rather have these somewhat wild, untamed flavours that speak so clearly of the place it comes from, than something more polished and accessible.

Domaine des Lises Equis Crozes-Hermitage 2007 Northern Rhône, France
There’s no doubting where this wine comes from. With its meaty, peppery, spicy, savoury, almost bloody nose it’s obviously cool climate Syrah from the Rhône. The palate is fresh and savoury with high acidity and meaty, peppery raspberry and plum fruit. There’s a degree of clarity and precision to the fruit that keeps it from being rustic. A brilliant effort. 92/100 (£15.95 BBR)

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Video: two top-notch New Zealand Syrahs

Here I take a look at New Zealand Syrah, tasting two top-notch examples on camera. Will it be the next big thing from Kiwiland? Too soon to say, with less than 300 hectares of Syrah planted in the whole country. But I’m a big fan – I’m excited by the wines that I’ve tried so far.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Zealand, day 6: Syrah Symposium

A bit of a change. After visiting beautiful vineyards, I've been stuck in a room all day.

But productively. It has been the Syrah Symposium here in Hawkes Bay. A mixture of science, tasting and opinion. A tight schedule, running from 8 am until 6 pm, with four excellent tasting sessions blended in with the talks.

The first, led by the excellent Rod Easthope (Craggy Range) looked at New Zealand Syrah. The second, led by Dan Buckle of Mount Langhi Ghiran focused on cool-climate Australian Shiraz. The third, presented by Jason Yapp, featured six brilliantly chosen wines from the Northern Rhone. Finally, Tim Atkin chose ten Shiraz/Syrah wines from around the world (deliberately excluding France and Australia).

After the symposium, many of us went to Steve Smith's pad for a BBQ, with imperials of Le Sol 2005 and Block 14 2004, both of which were suberb, with my preference being the latter. Nice to be able to chat to Brian Croser and Brian Walsh, as well as the Craggy guys.

The details of the Syrah symposium will have to wait for another time. I'm exhausted and we have an early start in the morning.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Beautifully elegant Aussie: De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004

I have a few bottles of this lurking around, purchased a few years ago for around a tenner a bottle. It's just beautiful, and at five years old is starting to hit its stride, but clearly has some distance to go.

De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 Yarra Valley, Australia
14% alcohol. 11 months ageing in new and used French oak barrels. This is a beautifully expressive, elegant wine. There's a hint of floral, apricotty perfume to the nose which shows slightly peppery dark fruits. The palate is super-fresh with cherry and plum fruit backed up by some spiciness, and a structure which is in part tannin, in part acidity. There's a sweetness to the fruit which is very much Australian, but also a freshness and structure that's much more Northern Rhone. Wonderful stuff that's ageing beautifully. 94/100

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An inexpensive, delicious Chilean Syrah

Tonight's tipple? A really great Syrah from Chile. It's from Leyda, a cool climate region on the coast, where there's only just enough warmth to get the Syrah grapes ripe. This leaves them with a lovely peppery freshness, although this isn't your average crowd-pleasing Chilean red, because it has edges. But I think it's the edges that make it interesting.

Costero Syrah 2008 Leyda, Chile
From Vina Leyda. An amazingly vibrant, edgy Chilean Syrah with some meatiness to the red fruits, as well as a hint of white pepper. The palate has high acidity and some grippy tannins, making it a good food option. There's just a hint of that Chilean rubbery character, but that doesn't detract overly from the impact of the wine. You're getting a lot more wine here than you are paying for. 89/100 (£6.95 Majestic when you buy more than one bottle of Chilean wine)

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Monday, December 07, 2009

An icon a day: Ogier Belle Helene 1999

Ogier La Belle Helène Côte-Rôtie 1999 Northern Rhône, France
Just two barrels of this wine made. Aromatic, rich, warm spicy nose is complex and profound with lovely rich red fruit, cherry, spice and subtle earthy notes. It's powerful and intense, yet harmonious. The concentrated palate has beautifully elegant, open, fresh meaty red fruits with lovely acidity. It has absorbed the new oak beautifully. Meaty and powerful yet elegant with a mineral finish. Profound stuff: the northern Rhône at its best, and starting to age very well. 97/100

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

An icon a day: Jaboulet La Chapelle 1990

After the 1978 reported on yesterday, the 1990: different, but totally compelling.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 Northern Rhône, France
Warm, complex, earthy spicy nose with some lovely richness. There are hints of medicine, old wood and game, and there's a distinct sweetness to the aromas. The palate has lovely smooth, warm, spicy notes and rounded, rich fruit. It's a powerful yet elegant wine that's ageing beautifully, and it really is a crime to spit it. Lovely tannic structure keeps the richness in check. Just beautiful. 97/100 (tasted at The Sampler)

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

An icon a day: Jaboulet La Chapelle 1978

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 Northern Rhône, France
This 1978 is a legendary northern Rhône wine, and so tasting it knowing what it was made being objective quite hard. But fortunately the wine did not disappoint. A relatively pale colour, it has a complex nose of red fruits, undergrowth and spice, with a hint of medicine and some subtle floral notes. Almost Burgundian in style, weight and elegance. The palate is sublimely elegant with soft, complex cherry fruit, spice, herbs, fine tannins and some mineral notes. It's just so, so elegant with amazing length and an eternal finish. A really beautiful wine, approaching perfection. As with all wines of this age, there will be considerable bottle variation; this is clearly a very good bottle. 98/100 (Tasted at The Sampler)

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Brief Napa reports: Lagier-Meredith at Bottega

Americans like to eat dinner early. When I arrived at Bottega for dinner with Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith, some people we already finishing their main courses, and it was just 6.30 pm.

Husband and wife team Steve and Carole began their small Mount Veeder vineyard back in the late 1980s, but were both at the time gainfully employed elsewhere, Steve as a winemaker with Mondavi and Carole as a professor at University of California Davis. Carole was the researcher responsible for showing that Zinfandel actually hails from Croatia, among other things.

The first thing they had to do was repair the damage done by the previous owner, who had cut down lots of trees but left large root fragments in the soil. These can transmit root fungus to vines, so Steve and Carole needed to comb the soil to remove them all, and then plant cover crop, before establishing the new vines. The first vines were planted in 1994, and rather unusually for Napa the choice was Syrah.

Four acres of Syrah are planted, at an altitude of 400 metres. A little Mondeuse Noir has just been added. Steve and Carole do everything themselves, including viticulture and winemaking. The wines are aged in used barrels bought from Saintsbury.

We tried the 2005 and 2001 Syrahs, and both were utterly fantastic: bright, focused, a bit peppery, with lovely purity and precision. These are ageworthy wines that resemble more the northern Rhone than typical Californian Syrah. I love them, and for $48 retail, they are (by Napa standards at least) really good value.

Bottega really impressed. It's a restaurant owned by TV chef Michael Chiarello, and the food is beautifully executed modern Italian based on excellent ingredients, not over-elaborately prepared. We began with a creamy mozarella burrata with butternut squash, mushrooms and balsamic caviar that was just stellar. I then had a beautiful roast octopus dish, a near-perfect duck gnocci (pictured), and rich, tender short rib with a polenta side. As an added benefit, this seriously good restaurant, with its assured service, has a generous wine mark-up of just 10% on retail prices.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 9

I just keep coming across affordable examples of the wonderful Syrah grape that have loads of personality and interest. Here's one from Spain that has some of that lovely meaty Syrah character to it. Actually, it reminds me a bit of the Porcupine Ridge Syrah from South Africa.

Hacienda El Espino 1707 Syrah 2007 Alamansa, Spain
13.5% alcohol, 3 months in French and American oak. Lovely ripe meaty, olive, floral nose. The palate is midweight, meaty, and spicy with plummy, berryish fruit. Really attractive with a lovely savoury character. 87/100 (£8.49 therealwineco.co.uk)

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two fantastic Syrahs from Great Southern

Great Southern is a region in Western Australia. As the name suggests, it's in the south of the state, and it's one of Australia's coolest wine regions. These two Syrahs are very cool-climate in style, and they're fantastic.

Both wines are made with fruit from the same vineyard by winemaker Andrew Hoadley. This is what he has to say about La Ciornia, which is under his personal wine label La Violetta:

'The inspiration for La Ciornia comes from my time spent working in Barbaresco in Piedmont 2002-2003. The local Piedmontese varieties (the well-known Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, and obscurities such as Freisa, Grignolino, Pelaverga) encompass the extremes of red winemaking (in terms of site expression, colour, tannin, aromatics, acidity, using oxygen constructively, etc) so you need to think creatively and have a steady nerve to get the results. Also, being an important culinary centre, most often the focus is on how the wines will function in context with food - rather than aiming for maximum ripeness/fruitiness/extract. When I first came to Denmark and tasted the extraordinary 2007 Kalgan River shiraz in barrel, I immediately had the desire to get hold of some fruit from that vineyard and see what I could do with it, aiming for a slightly divergent style - a shiraz that my Piedmontese friends would love to drink - relatively strict and unadorned, expressing the vineyard character.'

Kalgan River Shiraz Viognier 2008 Great Southern, Western Australia
14.5% alcohol, hand-picked. Very fresh and peppery with vibrant dark cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit, together with a savoury olive streak. This shows lovely peppery cool climate Syrah character, as well as having some rich fruitiness. Youthful, quite serious, with some structure. 92/100 (£16 auswineonline.co.uk)

La Violetta ‘La Ciornia’ Shiraz 2008 Great Southern, Western Australia
14% alcohol. Very fresh and bright: almost Burgundian in its style. Subtly meaty with sweet cherry and red berry fruit, as well as some restrained spicy notes. Quite rich, but overall more red fruits than black with good acidity and a peppery edge. Pure, primary and vibrant with brightness and freshness. I think this will be sensational in a few years (and would therefore get a higher rating), although it’s still impressive in this primary state. 91/100 (£23 auswineonline.co.uk)

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 8

I'm still in my pursuit of great value Shiraz/Syrah. Here's a good-un from today's Sainsbury's press tasting.

Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 New Zealand
13% alcohol. From the Gimblett Gravels, this is a really impressive Syrah at a good price. It has a fresh, spicy nose with notes of white pepper, cloves, meat and blackcurrant fruit. The palate is fresh and pure with focused black fruits backed up by some spicy, savoury notes. Berryish and pure, and a lovely cool-climate expression of Syrah. 90/100 (£8.99 Sainsbury's)

(will be available from 25/10/09)

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A stunning northern Rhone at Waitrose's Press Tasting

Spent most of today at the Waitrose press tasting. As UK readers will know, of all the supermarkets in the UK, Waitrose has the most serious wine list. While many of the high-end wines are available in just a few top stores (Kingston and Canary Wharf are the two flagship stores, carrying pretty much the entire range), they're all available from Waitrose Wine Direct, headed up by the extremely able Alex Murray, who used to be with Berry Bros & Rudd. Waitrose Wine Direct allows you to buy mixed cases, which is handy.

Many of the wines in the tasting today were lovely, but my favourite, by a whisker from the 2005 Leoville Barton, was a stunning Cornas. It was just so beautifully perfumed and structured. Almost Burgundian.

Vincent Paris Granit 30 Cornas 2007 Northern Rhone, France
13% alcohol, half matured in barriques. Wonderful nose: thrillingly alive, with fine meaty, spicy notes. Just so lively and expressive with perfumed floral elements. The palate is beautful, with high acidity and lovely firm but fine-grained tannins sitting under the elegant red fruits. Just thrilling: my favourite style of wine. 96/100 (£23.99 Waitrose, 2 branches)

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 8

Here's an elegant, perfumed Syrah from the Languedoc that I really like. Could drink a lot of this: it isn't too heavy, but it has lots of interest. Please forgive the rubbish camera phone picture!

Laurent Miquel Cazal Viel Cuvée des Fées 2007 Languedoc, France
13% alcohol. Lovely aromatics here: sweet, ripe and full with a hint of meatiness. Lovely aromatics and a hint of floral character, as well as red berries and plum. The palate is juicy and bright with nicely poised ripe meaty red fruits. Deliciously drinkable with real personality, and not at all forced. 89/100 (£8.99 Majestic)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 7

Another great Syrah. Now this isn't cheap, but it's great value for what is certainly one of South Africa's top 5 examples of this grape. Buy, buy, buy!

Mullineux Syrah 2008 Swartland, South Africa
A brilliant first vintage from Chris Mullineux. This has a profound nose of sweet dark fruits which provide a backdrop to the meaty, dark olive, spice and black pepper notes. There are real hints of the northern Rhône here, but with a bit more richness. The palate is sweetly fruited and rich with depth and power, showing notes of blackberry, spice, olives and herbs. Quite meaty with a lushness alongside the savoury intensity. Youthful and complex. 93/100 (£16.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 6

Here's another great value Shiraz. Not as cheap as the previous recommendations I've made in this mini-series, but well worth the asking price. I really like this wine. As with many Gimblett Gravel reds, it has wonderful freshness allied to ripeness. I'm almost always in the mood to drink wines like this.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah 2007 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
I love this wine, which shows beautiful focus. Fresh, sweet, pure dark cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose with a white pepper edge. The palate is juicy and bright with cherry and berry fruit, as well as some savoury peppery structure. Good acidity too. Sweet and rich in part, but savoury, juicy and fresh. Brilliant. 92/100 (Wine Rack £14.99 but £9.99 if you buy three)

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Video: two superb Syrahs: South Africa and New Zealand

A video of me tasting two utterly brilliant Syrahs: Mullineux 2008 (Swartland, South Africa) and Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2007 (Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand). I really liked these wines.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 2

Another great value Shiraz. It's Asda's Extra Special Shiraz 2008 Vin de Pays d'Oc, which is made for them by Jean Claude Mas, Languedoc superstar.

This is an example of brilliant commercial winemaking, and it over-delivers for its price (which, I think, is £6.07, but I've seen this for closer to £5 on offer). It's sweetly fruited, well defined and has some meaty complexity to it. It's very drinkable, with a hint of seriousness. I like the fact that it tastes of Syrah. Do try it if you get the chance.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 1

Just wanted to share a few recent, highly positive experiences with inexpensive Syrah, beginning with this little beauty from Boekenhoutskloof's Marc Kent.

It's the Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2008, from South Africa (Waitrose, £6.99). Quite simply, this is the best example of this grape available anywhere at this price in the UK. It's ripe and sweet, but it has a lovely savoury, meaty dimension to it. In some ways, it's a fusion of the old world (meaty, savoury, floral aromatics) with the new (bold, sweet, ripe and mouthfilling). I really like it. You owe it to yourself to go and buy a bottle and give it a try.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Video: tasting three great Syrahs from South Africa

Here's a clip of me tasting three rather good Syrah/Shiraz wines from South Africa. I've had half a dozen over the last week, and they've all exceeded my expectations. Less of the South African character, more purity to the fruit, and some personality, too.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

A fresh, peppery Crozes-Hermitage

Supermarket Crozes-Hermitage can be pretty anonymous, but here's a really nice one that I enjoyed. I'd buy it again.

Crozes-Hermitage Beaufeuil 2008 Northern Rhone, France
Really fresh cherry fruit nose with a distinctive pepper character. The palate shows really attractive bright cherry fruit with some grippy tannins under the sweet fruit as well as nice meaty savouriness. Midweight, fresh and delicious, this is lovely cool climate Syrah that's expressive and quite elegant. 89/100 (£8.99 Morrisons)

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two Gimblett Gravel reds

Tonight's drinking: two red wines, both from the same remarkable patch of land. That'll be New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region, and more specifically the Gimblett Gravels - a relatively recently discovered terroir that makes lovely red wines, both from Syrah and also Bordeaux varieties. These wines aren't the very best that the Gimblett has to offer (Waitrose have a couple of Craggy Range wines - Block 14 and Sophia - that should give you that), but they are affordable and delicious.

Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red Merlot Malbec 2007 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is a blend of Merlot and Malbec, with a dash of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc from the Gimblett Gravels. It's fresh and berryish, with a subtle green herbiness and some minerally, gravelly depth. The focused fruit is well supported by grippy, slightly grainy tannins. Ripe but beautifully balanced, this is a mid-weight wine that sort of straddles the new world/old world divide. Nicely savoury. 89/100 (£9.99 Waitrose; £11.99 Bon Coeur Fine Wines, General Wine Co, Highbury Vintners)

Vidal Syrah 2007 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Sweet, almost lush blackberry and dark cherry nose with a peppery, slightly medicinal, whisky-like edge to it. The palate combines sweet, ripe dark fruit with a spicy, white pepper kick and some nice grippy structure. It's a bright, fruity good-time Syrah with a hint of seriousness. Still very berryish, and tastes like a very rich Pinot Noir. 88/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

A New Zealand Syrah

I really, really like Syrah from New Zealand. Most of the good stuff comes from a special patch of ground, the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay, a warm microclimate with special soils.

Tonight I'm tasting one such wine. It was the favourite of mine from the line-up of Southbank Estate wines that I tried at the recent New Zealand tasting. It's not the best Kiwi Syrah, by any measure, but it's very attractive, and relatively easily available in the UK.

Southbank Estate Syrah 2005 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This is a light, medium-bodied red with fresh cherry and red berry fruit, as well as some hints of white pepper and a bit of gravelly grip on the palate. It's a bright, quite savoury red, with more in common with red Burgundy than Australian Shiraz. It flirts with greenness, but there's enough ripeness here for it to work really well. At just 12.5% alcohol, this is a bright, vibrant, food-friendly Syrah that will age well, and which is dangerously drinkable. 89/100 (£13 Majestic, Blackrock Wines, Penistone Court Wines)

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

A delicious northern Rhone Syrah

When you write about wine professionally, it's hard to answer the question, 'what's your favourite wine?' But when people quiz you on this topic, they usually don't want a five-minute answer explaining why it's hard to give an answer: they want a simple answer.

And in the past, this answer has frequently been 'Cote Rotie'. I'm a big fan of northern Rhone Syrah, and usually the best expression of this is Cote Rotie (unless we're talking Chave, the best producer of Hermitage by a country mile, or Thierry Allemand's Cornas). I feel like I've neglected the northern Rhone a bit in the last year or two, but now I'm coming back to it, and tonight I've opened another bottle that is just delicious.

It's a Crozes Hermitage. Along with St Joseph, Crozes offers an affordable glimpse of the greatness of northern Rhone Syrah, when it's done well. This is one of the general observations I can make about the northern Rhone, though - the producer matters hugely, because the standard varies widely, as does the stylistic expression.

Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Alberic Bouvet 2005 Northern Rhone, France I really like this wine: it's a fantastic expression of northern Rhone Syrah. Deep coloured, it has a fresh, peppery dark fruits nose with a meaty, slightly animally complexion to the sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. The palate has a lovely earthy, meaty, spicy edge to the ripe black fruits with good acidity and a subtle plummy bitterness keeping things nice and savoury. Tight and youthful, this is great with hearty food right now, but could be kept for another five years to mellow out a bit. 13.5% alcohol. 91/100 (£14.95 Great Western Wine)

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A lovely Cote Rotie, and a delicious Cotes du Rhone

Nice wine tonight - a cask sample of one of Gilles Barge's Cote Roties. It's a special cuvee made from an abandoned, steeply sloping site replanted in 2000, and this was one of the samples bottled for Bibendum's recent en primeur tasting. Now samples like this should be tasted soon after bottling, and this was sent to me by Bibendum just after the event but then got lost in transit for a couple of weeks, only arriving today. It's still tasting fantastic, though, with a distinctly meaty, peppery edge and some Burgundian elegance. Bibendum are offering this at £240 per case of 12 in bond.

Domaine Gilles Barge Côte-Rôtie Le Combard 2007 Northern Rhône, France (cask sample)
Just delicious. Fresh, bright nose of meaty, peppery raspberry and just-ripe cherry fruit with lovely floral aromatics. The palate is expressive and elegant, with a meaty, subtly animally edge to the beautifully textured sweet and sour fruit, combining pure, sweet cherries with tart acidity and peppery freshness. It’s complex, brooding and quite profound: the antithesis of clumsy, dark, extracted, oaky Syrah. 92–94/100

More affordable, and almost as good is this robust, sweetly fruited Cotes du Rhone in the same Rhone 2007 offer. Apparently 2007 was an awesome vintage in the Southern Rhone - better than in the North.

Domaine Grand Veneur Les Champauvins 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages, France (cask sample)
Apparently, Robert Parker gave this 91/100, which is a high score for a relatively affordable wine. I can understand why: it’s a deliciously rich, dense Southern Rhône red with concentrated, sweet spicy raspberry liqueur fruit, backed up by fresh acidity and a bit of earthy structure. It’s smooth and delicious, with a hint of ginger adding aromatic interest. Much better than most Châteauneuf-du-Papes, with real richness and intensity. 90–92/100 (£55 in bond for 12 bottles in www.bibendum-wine.co.uk’s recent en primeur offer).

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A great lunch with Chave 83

Lunch at the Ledbury today, with a rather special bottle: Chave Hermitage 1983. The reason? I was meeting with Keith Prothero and Lionel Nierop, who are starting a new online wine auction system (which I'll write about when it is ready to go, in about a month), and Keith is a generous guy who enjoys sharing his wines.

The day started with the Corney & Barrow press tasting, held at a swanky location in Grosvenor Place. But for some bizarre reason I got Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch tube stations muddled up in my head and ended up at the latter rather than the former. So I decided to walk through Hyde Park to get to Hyde Park Corner, which is a lovely stroll on a day like today, but took longer than I thought it would.

London is well supplied with nice parks. I love Regent's Park, and Kensington Gardens is lovely. Green Park is small but pleasant, and Hyde Park is big and quite pretty. Battersea Park is worth a detour; I haven't yet made it to Victoria Park in east London. Further out west, Richmond Park is absolutely enormous.

After just an hour of tasting, I had to leave the Corney & Barrow event to get to my lunch appointment on time. The Ledbury is spectacular – one of London's very best restaurants. And lunch is a steal here, with the set menu a few pence under £20. For that, you get astonishingly good food and excellent service, in a very nice environment. We had a really enjoyable couple of hours, with a great combination of food, wine and company.

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 1998 Nelson, New Zealand
Yellow gold in colour, this is rich and intense with a lovely toasty depth to the herby, slightly citrussy fruit. It's pungent and dense on the palate with complex herb-tinged fruit complemented by sweet nutty, spicy oak and hints of oiliness. There's citrussy freshness on the finish. A delicious, bold Chardonnay that's evolving well. 92/100

Chave Hermitage 1983 Northern Rhone, France
A fantastic wine. Beautifully aromatic, with a fresh, spicy personality and a complexity that’s hard to put into words. I was getting notes of tar, earth, herbs, blood and meat. It’s sweet but savoury at the same time. The palate showed spicy red fruits with a subtle medicinal character, as well as tangy citrus notes on the finish. A complex, multifaceted wine with nice definition. 95/100

Then it was off to the M&S press tasting, held at their headquarters round the back of Paddington Station. It’s actually surprisingly close to the Ledbury (in Notting Hill) – it turned out to be a brisk 15 minute walk. There were 160 wines on show; I tried just over half, and then slept on the train on the way home.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Matetic EQ Syrah - a serious effort

Over the last couple of evenings I have been enjoying the Matetic EQ Syrah, which is a serious wine. It's one of the vineyards I visited on my Chile trip in January, and for me this is Chile's best producer. They're operating biodynamically, and they seem to get such definition and freshness into their reds. I bought a couple of bottles of this from the Oddbins in St Margarets, and was rather surprised to find it had been reduced from £17 to £12, at which price it's a steal.

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Incredible stuff. Very deep coloured. Intense, pure blackberry and blackcurrant nose complemented by spicy, meaty, earthy notes, as well as a hint of olive and tar. The palate is earthy and dense with plenty of structure, but also lots of blackberry and plum fruit. There's lovely fresh acidity. Just a tiny trace of that Chilean rubbery greenness, but overall this is a really serious effort and I'll be buying some more with a view to seeing how it ages over the medium term. 92/100 (£12.75 Oddbins, reduced from £17)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

A pair from Maycas del Limari

Concha y Toro, Chile's largest wine company by far, is on fire at the moment. They're making seriously good wines in large volumes. Perhaps their most interesting venture is the Maycas del Limari wines, from a cool climate region in the far north of the country that is emerging as a promising place to grow vines. This affordable pair of wines impress.

Maycas del Limari Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Super-fresh, this is a bright Sauvignon with a nose showing gooseberry, grapefruit and green pepper. The palate is crisp and fruity with vivid fruit and a hint of greenness that comes across as almost spicy. A beautifully expressive, lean, concentrated Sauvignon that's quite extreme but works really well. Think Awatere Valley with even more edginess. 90/100 (£8.99 Tesco)

Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Amazingly deep colour. Beautiful nose of sweet brooding blackberry and raspberry jam with complex spicy notes and lovely purity. On the palate there's a hint of rubbery greenness, which along with the pure blackcurrant fruit which makes it taste a bit Chilean, but there are also warm spicy notes. It's a ripe, fruity wine of broad appeal, and overdelivers for its price point. 90/100 (£8.99 Oddbins, Tesco)

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two beautiful natural wines from the Rhone

Two wines from Hervé Souhaut at Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet in the northern Rhône. He has about 5 hectares of vines over the river from the Hermitage hill, so the wines are classified as Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, but they are utterly beautiful, elegant creations, made from old vines with very little sulphur dioxide added. Elegantly packaged with their minimalist labels and black synthetic corks, these are wines of the moment – not designed to be cellared. Best served a little cooler than room temperature, too. [Unsurprisingly, in the UK these are available from Les Caves de Pyrene. No commercial connection, etc.]

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet ‘La Souteronne’ Gamay 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, France
Fresh, slightly sappy, herb-tinged nose. The palate has a lovely smooth texture and shows pure red cherry and cranberry fruit, with freshness, elegance and just a little spicy grip on the finish, making this a delightful, food-compatible wine of great purity. 91/100

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Syrah 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, France
This is simply beautiful. There’s a distinctive cool-climate Syrah peppery kick on the nose, which is otherwise really pure and focused, with a gentle leafy character underneath the red fruits. The palate is beautifully supple, slightly sappy, and fantastically elegant, with real purity to the smoothly textured fruit. I guess the granite soils may have something to do with this: it’s light, but aromatic. Just 11.7% alcohol. 93/100

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

A photoshoot, a Merlot and a Roussillon red

Spent most of the day at Denbies winery (www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk) doing a photoshoot for the Sunday Express. This required the services of quite a team: a photographer plus her assistant, a make-up person, the section editor plus her assistant, the art editor, the fashion stylist and me. I was dressed in a white linen suit, brown shoes and a panama hat. While we were shooting in the vineyards a team of cyclists passed us and one of them commented loudly, 'It's the man from del monte'. I was embarrassed. We shot pictures in the cellar, too. The results will be in a special section in the magazine on summer drinks, on August 3rd. It was a really interesting and slightly surreal experience.

Two wines this evening. The first is a Merlot from Australia. Many readers will have switched off at this point, because Merlot sucks most of the time, and almost always when it comes from Australia. But this is quite a good one.

The second is a Roussillon red from the holy trinity of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, and it's nicely dense and rather attractive.
Linda Domas Wines Boycat Merlot 2006 McLaren Vale, Australia
Slightly reductive on the nose, with a hint of burnt rubber, but also some really fresh, vibrant berry fruit, as well as a hint of gravel. The palate is juicy and medium bodied, with delightfully expressive, fresh, sweet red berry fruit, a trace of blackcurrant, and also some spicy tannins on the finish. I guess that the McLaren Vale isn't the best place in the world to grow Merlot, but this is still a very attractive, supple, sweetly fruited wine of some appeal. Elegant and very berryish. 88/100 (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)

Domaine Treloar Three Peaks 2006 Cotes du Roussillon, France
This attractive southern French red is the inaugural vintage from this producer, a Kiwi-English collaboration farming just 10 hectares in the Roussillon. It's a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A concentrated wine with sweet-yet-focused red and black fruits with a spicy lift. There's a distinctly savoury, spicy quality to this wine which has enough tannin and acidity to keep it quite fresh. Finishes distinctly savoury and quite grippy. A food-friendly style that may develop nicely over the next few years. 90/100 (£10.25 Leon Stolarski)

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

An excellent Syrah from South Africa

Julien Schaal is a young winemaker from Alsace who also makes wine in South Africa. His home in the Cape is the Newton Johnson winery in Hermanus, but the grapes for this excellent Syrah come from Elgin, a cool-climate area not all that far away. It's really one of the best Syrahs I've tried from South Africa - perhaps not quite up to the Foundry, TMV or Columella level, but not far off. I picked it up today at Handford Wines on the Old Brompton Road, where it was recommended to me by Greg Sherwood MW. Handford are doing good work: they've got a really good selection of wines in at the moment. I was impressed.

Julien Schaal 'African Dream' Syrah 2005 Western Cape, South Africa
From a vineyard in Elgin, this is made by a French winemaker and matured in 900 litre French oak barrels, and it's really good. The nose is sweet and ripe with dark cherry and blackberry fruit framed by a subtly roasted, spicy character, as well as a bit of meatiness. The palate combines lush fruit with spicy definition, as well as bright acidity. It's very ripe, but minerally and fresh with it. I wouldn't go so far as to call it Rhone-like, as some has done. It's more like an elegant take on Barossa Valley. Finishes fresh. Great value for money, this. 91/100 (£9.99 Handford Wines)

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday night thoughts

Had a day working from home today. A bit of a late start, but then some serious work on Brettanomyces, that most complex and interesting of wine 'faults'. Found out that the theme for my next Sunday Express column has been changed at short notice - this goes with the territory. Forgot to do some much-needed invoicing (I'm not the most financially motivated of writers). Walked the dog twice.

Then I took elder son to play golf at what turned out to be a really nice nine-hole course in Ascot called Lavender Park. Good greens, bunkers in good nick, thoughtful layout - ideal place to learn how to play. Finished off by watching a rather dud film, Charlie Wilson's War. There was just something deeply wrong with the idea of a comedy about such a serious subject as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and its aftermath. And casting ultra-clean Tom Hanks as a playboy congressman was simply absurd. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a serious actor who was also incongruous in his role, although he pulled it off well. Then a chance to catch the latest episode of Peep Show, which is a fantastic comedy. One of the best.

So, wine? Yes. Bonterra Rose 2007 Mendocino, California is pretty good - savoury and bright, a fusion of cranberry juice and red cherries, with some grassiness, too. It's very hard for a rose to be serious or really exciting, but this is rather nice. But, at £9.99 from Waitrose, it isn't cheap: I wonder whether it's ever necessary to pay £10 for a rose. Shaw & Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2006 is pretty impressive. It has a fantastic peppery, cool-climate Syrah character, with some meatiness and raspberry fruit. There's also a darker blackberry fruit character, and some spicy oak in the background. At the moment this is quite tight-wound and tannic, but I'm very impressed by the freshness and definition. This is pretty serious, and I'd rate it at 93/100. But perhaps this should have been labelled 'Syrah', to better reflect its old-world leanings, rather than 'Shiraz'?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A birthday and some more wine

It has been another gloriously summery day here in London. I've done the bare minimum of work, because it was a significant birthday for Fiona, and celebration was in order.

After a relaxed start to the day, we went to lunch at The Wharf in Teddington, which is beautifully situated on the river, right next to the lock. The service was good, the setting was stunning, but unfortunately the food was distinctly average. But that's the problem with the restaurant scene in the suburbs: most of our local options are mediocre, but they still do a roaring trade. I suspect that people generally aren't all that fussy about what they put in their mouths, as long as the menu looks good and the setting seems right.

We had a couple of glasses of wine - it was the sort of list that looked OK, but had an annoying tendency not to give the producers' names. Fiona's choice was a Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc and mine a Chilean Carmenere Reserve (yes, the by-the-glass option was pretty limited), and the waiter wasn't able to find out who had made them. The wines were actually quite good, but it's frustrating not being given important information on the list.

Then this evening we met up with good friends Karl and Kate and their kids for a relaxing evening, again on the river. Kate's parents have some land fronting onto the Thames at Chertsey, and keep a boat there, and that was the venue for this evening's fun. We had a few drinks and then took a trip on the river, before heading back for some food. It was a beautiful evening, and the kids behaved themselves. Pictured is Fiona taking a swing over the water. She stayed dry.

Two quick wine mentions. First, Burgans Albarino 2006 Rias Baixas is a classic Albarino with a subtly floral, lemony nose and a palate that displays grapefruit and citrus pith character. It's fresh and quite precise, but with good depth of flavour. Stylish. 89/100 (£8.99 Oddbins). The second wine is a red with a bit of southern personality. Selection Laurence Feraud Seguret 2006 Cotes de Rhone Villages is quite deep in colour with attractive aromas of sweet red fruits and peppery spice. The palate is brightly fruited with some grippy, peppery tannins and a distinctive spiciness that nicely counters the sweetness of the fruit. There's also a hint of meatiness here, together with a bit of earthiness. This is quite seductive, in a modern, fruit forward style, but there's also some old world earthiness and spice that I find really appealing. Isn't cheap, but it is good. 90/100 (£9.99 Virgin Wines)

Nerdy closure note: the Burgans is sealed with a bright orange synthetic cork (supremecorq), while the Seguret is sealed with a screwcap (saranex-only liner).

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

A great weekend, and New Zealand's top Sauvignon Blanc?

So, Fiona and I were given a nice present by our good friends Karl and Kate. The deal was they would get to look after our lovely children and RTL for the weekend; we would get to go to a five star hotel in London at their expense. Very generous of them, especially if you've met our children and hound.

We kicked off our 30-ish hours of liberation by a long lunch at the Tate Britain. The food here is solidly good - simple and effective, with a modern-British feel. The wine list is sensational and fairly priced. The surroundings are nice, too.

I struck gold ordering the wines: a bottle of 2006 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (£29), and a half of Crozes Hermitage Vieilles Vignes 2005 from Domaine du Murinais (£12). The Clos Henri was simply the best Marlborough Sauvignon I've ever tried - big, multidimensional, rich but precise. The Murinais Crozes was all that you could ever expect from a modestly expensive Syrah - pure, sweet fruit with lovely definition and an almost Burgundian elegance. No hint of rusticity.

We wandered the gallery a bit. Turner is the dominant force here - and you can understand why, because his work is remarkable. Afterwards we headed off to the hotel (Renaissance Chancery Court, Holborn) where we slobbed out, with the help of some Pol Roger NV. Then this morning we got up late before finding a fantastic breakfast spot a short walk away from the Charing Cross Road. Now we are home, and the kids and RTL shall shortly be returning. It's been a brilliant weekend.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

New world Syrah with an old world feel

Sometimes living in England is a bit crap. It's April. Spring should be well underway. But after a lovely day yesterday, today was utterly nasty. I took older son and RTL for a walk along the river Crane while younger son was playing cricket on Twickenham green, and despite wearing my newly acquired, snazzy Terrazas hunting top (over an Achaval Ferrer polo shirt), I was freezing.

This afternoon we went over to Purley for the 40th birthday celebrations of a good friend, Michael, which meant we met up with a whole bunch of chums from when we were first married and living in south London. It was a fantastic event, with sumo wrestling, gladiators and a 'strongest man' competition. This involved various activities such as tossing the caber, welly throwing, and running a course carrying large rocks. The large rocks bit was the toughest test. You had to run to the end of the course and back carrying sequentially heavier rocks. The first and second were quite heavy, but the third was enormous and weighed as much as a small family car. I was in no danger of winning, but I was quite proud to have completed the course - it took about ten minutes to recover afterwards, and I still feel a bit weak now.

So, to the serious business of drinking wine. Two Syrahs tonight. Both from the new world. But both with a bit of old world style and freshness. In these days of £1 = Euro 1.25, it's reassuring that the new world isn't just pumping out big, super-ripe, obvious reds.

Howard Park Leston Shiraz 2005 Margaret River, Australia
Vibrant red/purple colour. The nose is distinctly Australian, with some mint, eucalyptus and tarry spiciness, along with sweet red and black fruits. The palate shows lovely freshness, with tight dark fruit and good acidity, along with well integrated oak. A really fresh, juicy style of Shiraz with real precision – I reckon this will age well. It’s a classically Australian style, but with more freshness and focus than most. I reckon this will be peaking in five years but good for 10 more. 91/100 (£14.50 Bibendum) 04/08

The Aurora Vineyard Syrah 2006 Bendigo, Central Otago, New Zealand
A beautiful cool-climate expression of Syrah. It has a really lovely white pepper and spice definition to the raspberry and dark cherry fruit, with an almost Burgundian elegance and freshness. There’s lovely purity to the fruit here, which is ripe and dark with great natural acidity. Real elegance here: it seems nicely poised between the new and old worlds in style. Not a big, dense, showy sort of wine, but utterly compelling – it reminds me of the best of the Gimblett Gravel Syrahs in style. Bendigo is a warm subdistrict of Central Otago, which explains why they’ve been able to make this wine from somewhere you wouldn’t expect to excel with Syrah. 92/100 (£16.99 http://www.hellionwines.com/) 04/08

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lunch at Tate Britain

Had lunch today at Tate Britain, which has a brilliant restaurant as well as some rather good paintings. I was with the team responsible for the London wine trade fair, discussing this year's top 100 tasting. Hamish Anderson, the well-known head sommelier was in attendance and so we let him choose the wines for us: he chose very well. Praepositus Sylvaner 2006 from the Alto Adige was really expressive, aromatic and melony, and the Clonakilla Shiraz 2001 from Canberra District was sensationally good, with expressive, Rhone-like meaty, peppery notes alongside the pure dark fruit. My food was superb: pigeon on white cabbage for starters (gamey, rich) and then a duck cassoulet that was one of the best I've had. A really impressive experience in a lovely setting. Pictured below are some rather attractive freshly pruned plane trees round the corner from the gallery.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chile: winery visits, biodynamics and another helicopter ride

Last night's dinner was the launch of Vina San Pedro's 1865 brand, held at the wonderful new Mestizo restaurant we'd been to earlier in the week. It was an enjoyable evening, with good food and some nice wines. I particularly liked their Carmenere. But it ended up being another late night.

This morning we set off at 0830 for the Casablanca Valley, and a few really special appointments. Having come on this trip sceptical about Chile's performance at the top end, today I found some wines that you could pitch against the best of the new world, sure that they'd hold their own. I'm not saying that Chile now has an abundance of world class wines like this, but that they now have some is a certain sign of progress.

First stop was Loma Larga (translates as 'Long Hill'), an enormous property (700 hectares) of which around 150 hectares are under vine. Owned by the Diaz family, most of the vineyard area grows grapes for selling to leading wine companies (which is highly profitable), but 50 or so hectares are used to make the Loma Larga wines. Reds are the speciality here, which is unusual for Casablanca. We tried some great Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, as well as a lovely Syrah. Deeply impressive. The winery (seen from above, above) is beautiful, with vines growing on the first third or so of the roof, which blends elegantly into the ground.

Three of us were lucky enough to be given a helicopter ride (this winery has its own chopper!) to our next visit, which gave us great views of the Casablanca Valley. (Top picture.)

Matetic was the next stop. It's another large, family-owned venture. This time the property is really huge, at 16 000 hectares, but just 120 of these are planted to vines. The estate, established in 1999, is run biodynamically, although it hasn't yet achieved certification. The wines are thrillingly good, with the Syrah and Malbec/Merlot being the stand-outs for me. The winery building is stunning, too. I was excited by this visit.

Finally, we visited Casas del Bosque. Once again, it's a big property (1000 hectares), owned by an Italian family, with 250 hectares under vine. We tried a range of tank and barrel samples, including an experimental Pinot Noir that was decidedly European in flavour profile, and four different clones of Syrah.
Syrah and Pinot Noir are getting a lot of attention in Chile at the moment, it seems, and I think it's a good thing.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fizzy lunch and a Graillot

Continuing with our Christmas series of social engagements, today we had a really enjoyable family lunch with my parents and three siblings, plus my aunt, uncle and their kids, plus all the various sprogs. Quite a crowd in all, and it was good to see everyone. Cheerful mild chaos.

Brother-in-law Beavington was in good form and pulled out some magnums of Champagne - Drappier NV and Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. There's something special about drinking from magnum. As well as it being the best format for ageing wine, it just feels kind of generous and life-loving and a bit extravagant to be pouring a 1.5 litre bottle. The Ruinart Blanc de Blancs magnum, with its clear glass, looked particularly gorgeous (pictured above, on the table). The wine was really good, too.

At home this evening, I'm using the decanter again. The wine is Graillot's 1998 Crozes Hermitage. To be honest, I prefer Graillots Crozes to many Hermitages. They offer the essence of Northern Rhone Syrah, complete with edges and definition and personality. They can be quite challenging wines, though - the 1998 is an example of this. The last of nine bottles I purchased some time ago, this is still alive but was nicer a couple of years ago. There's high acidity, a bit of austerity on the palate, some green olive meaty notes and a bit of violetty perfume. The overall impression is a very savoury one, and I reckon this is definitely best with food, where it would excel with fatty meat, game, rich meaty stews or something a bit off-piste, like moussaka. A bottle that has been stored in pristine conditions might show a little better than this one, but I'd drink up soon if you have any. The most recent vintages of this wine that I've tried, the 2003, 2004 and 2005 have all been excellent.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Heathcote Shiraz: regionality in Australia

Regionality is a bit of a theme in the new world, these days. People are recognizing that there are some sites that are just great for wine growing, which I guess fits in with the notion of terroir. In Australia, one of the buzz regions is Heathcote in Victoria (see here for an introduction to the region), which specializes in Shiraz wines with a real presence and freshness,

Tonight I'm drinking a Heathcote Shiraz with a real sense of place. It tastes like some of the other wines I've had from this region. The fact that, irrespective of winemaker, a certain place can produce wines that resemble each other, is something I find exciting.

Sanguine Estate Shiraz 2004 Heathcote, Australia
This is a really expressive Heathcote Shiraz with a sense of place. The nose is quite fresh with sweet dark fruits together with a bright peppery, meaty character. It's aromatically alive and fruit driven, with a really appealing, almost floral complexity. The palate is ripe, sweet and dekicious, but there's a lovely freshness to the dark fruits which prevents it from becoming over-the-top. It's definitely a warm climate wine, but it's also fresh and expressive, too. 92/100 (£16.95 Great Western Wine)

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

A bright Crozes-Hermitage

Tasting notes are fresher, I beleive, if you write them as you are drinking, and without thinking too carefully about what you are saying. There's something vibrant about sharing your perceptions in (close to) real time, as you are experiencing them. So here's tonight's tasting note on the fly.

Chapoutier Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage 2005 Northern Rhone, France
Nicely packaged with the usual Chapoutier braille label and a good quality bottle. I have had mixed experiences with Chapoutier's wines over the last few years - they just haven't delivered that essence of northern Rhone Syrah that I'm looking for when I come to this region. This bottle sort of delivers, and I'm enjoying it. It has a fresh, savoury nose that's distinctly peppery with rather subdued dark fruits and a hint of greenness. The palate is midweight, showing more of those peppery dark fruits, good acidity, and mouth-drying, rather fearsome tannins. I like the fact that it's not tricked up, and that it is distinctly savoury. It's also showing good typicity. I just feel it could do with a touch more fruit intensity to balance those bold tannins. Still, a good food wine, and I'm happy to drink it. 88/100 (£11.49 Averys, Oddbins, BBR)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Two Rhones from 2005

Just brief notes on two Rhones from the 2005 vintage.

The first is from a tiny appellation in the northern Rhone - Brezeme - which is a varietal Syrah. It's the Cuvee Eugene de Monicault 2005 Brezeme Cotes du Rhone from J-M Lombard (available from Yapp for £14.50). It's a dense, savoury, slightly backward wine in the style of Cornas, with savoury dark fruits on the nose complemented by a minerally, earthy streak. The palate has high acidity and firm tannins, with a nice earthy freshness to the slightly muted fruit. It's a savoury, fresh style with good intensity and the potential to age well over the medium term. 89/100

The second is one of Waitrose's new 'own label' range, which they have created in conjunction with some leading producers. This wine, a Chateauneuf du Pape, is made by the Perrins of Beaucastel fame. It's pretty good.

Waitrose Les Chemins des Mulets Chateauneuf du Pape 2005 Southern Rhone, France
Made for UK supermarket Waitrose in partnership with the Perrins. Mainly Grenache with 20% Syrah, from two properties. Deep coloured. Spicy, slightly earthy nose with some savoury complexity. The palate is earthy and spicy with raspberry and cherry fruit coupled with firm grippy tannins. There's some richness and complexity here, but overall it tends towards austerity, with its high alcohol and tannin. Just a little more lushness and fruit sweetness would have given this wine great balance, but still, it's an enjoyable Chateauneuf. 88/100 (£14.99 Waitrose)

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cornas threat

Yes, I know, this is old news now - but it is still relevant. I was alerted a month or two ago by a couple of readers for some crazy sounding development plans that could take out a substantial chunk of the Cornas vineyards in the Northern Rhone of France.

Now, as most of you know, Cornas rocks. And there's only 100 hectares of it altogether. So development plans threatening at least 3.4 hectares sound very daft indeed.

You can read all about it on Jon Livingstone-Learmonth's site here. Pictured is a Syrah vine in Cornas.

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